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Belize 2012 – Day Two: We’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain…

5 Mar

After a solid 10 hours of sleep, we were up and ready to get this vacation started! From prior experience, we knew that our hotel put on a really nice breakfast buffet with local food and baked goods made on premise. We tucked into johnny cakes (think Belizean scones), papaya, pineapple, local bacon and sausage, French toast, refried beans, eggs and fried/fry jacks. A light breakfast? Certainly not. But  who cares? We’re on vacation!

J’s folks, along with his aunt, came to collect us around 10am for our trip up to Cayo, the mountainous district in Belize. Cayo his home to a number of Mayan ruins, beautiful wildlife and dense forests. It’s a roughly 2.5-3 hour journey along the Western Highway, depending on how you’re travelling and how many stops you make. Along the way, you can go through Belize’s capital city, Belmopan. We have family friends living there and they invited us for lunch – who are we to turn down such hospitality?

The lovely Nelly cooked up a traditional dish called “black dinner” or chimole. This soup, made with two kinds of local spice called recado, garlic, cloves, oregano, cumin, tomatoes and onion, is served along with chicken, a hard-boiled egg and tortillas. You can eat the soup, chicken, egg and tortilla separately but it was much more fun – and tasty – to cut off a piece of the chicken, a piece of egg, wrap them in the tortilla and dunk the whole thing in the soup. There is a good chance I will be attempting to make this at home, assuming I can find all I need!

As truly delicious as this was, dessert was over-the-top, only-had-it-in-Belize good. Ice box cake was it’s name and it had to have weighed 15 pounds – plus the giant serving dish. Filled with condensed milk, Cool Whip, sugar and canned fruit, it had kind of a custard texture and was refreshing and surprisingly light. Despite the ingredients, it wasn’t overly sweet and if I hadn’t been so full from the two helpings of chimole, I would’ve had a second helping of dessert, too, when it was inevitably offered.

Back on our journey, the roads started to get narrower and the scenery changed from flat, wide open spaces to verdant hills. We wound our way through the bottom of the mountains until we finally arrived at our destination: Windy Hill.

Nice view, eh?

And one of my fave things about Windy Hill? This.

Oh, hello, infinity pool.

Not only are the grounds stunning, but the food is unfailingly delicious and clearly made from scratch. The flour tortillas were especially good here, reminiscent of Indian naan: soft and light on the inside, a little bit of char on the outside. The fruit is fresh and plentiful and the service is always friendly. You really get to know them and they you, which makes for an easy and pleasant dining experience. J and I opted for curry and creole shrimp dishes our first night there, respectively, and within 20 minutes GIANT plates of seafood arrived in front of us. Needless to say, very little remained by the time we were done.

After a starlit walk around the grounds, we headed back to our cabin to rest up for the next day’s adventure: climbing the largest ruins in Belize!

Belize 2012 – Day One: Ready for it All…Right After a Nap.

2 Mar

3:30am comes really, really early these days, especially when you’ve got to take on Pearson International Airport half an hour later. It helps to know that you’re headed on vacation to a beautiful country where friends, family and food await you. Last year’s day of departure was a total gong show; this year, a relatively painless experience. Most of the first flight was spent asleep or blankly staring at the seat in front of me. J and I were travelling with his aunt and upon arriving at the Miami airport we decided to go in search of breakfast. While I generally loathe the Miami airport and it’s ability to turn normal, reasonable people into shoving, rude, insane jerks, I must admit that they have a great selection of restaurants. We popped into a Tex-Mex place that had a surprisingly good huevos rancheros plate, served with warm flour tortillas. Beats a McD’s breakfast sandwich any day.

Two hours later we were on our way to my adopted country, Belize. My in-laws were waiting for us at the airport and took us off to the house they had rented in Belize City. After a quick clothing change (there is no place for pants while on vacation, as far as I’m concerned), I sat down with my in-laws to catch up. “Are you ready for a beer?” my mother-in-law asked. Oh, how absurdly ready I was.

The sign you've officially arrived

This light, cold beer was exactly what I was craving after 11 hours of travelling and to accompany it, she had some chicken tamales for us to inhale. What a welcome!

Beer and late-lunch taken care of, we went to visit some of J’s relatives, including his 97-year old great aunt who is an inspiration to anyone who meets her. We only stayed for a brief visit as it was pretty close to dinner and we didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s routine. Additionally, we were pretty exhausted and were very much ready for a nap.

And since we were on vacation, that is EXACTLY what we did: dropped our bags on the floor in our hotel room and fell dead asleep for an hour. Naptime was proceeded by a nice, hot shower. Feeling much more human, J and I headed to the Baymen’s Tavern in our hotel (Belize City is not a place to explore at night by yourself). We ordered a couple of beers and J went for the fried shrimp platter while I opted for the grilled snapper – both with rice & beans and coleslaw. When in Belize, you’ve gotta get the rice & beans. It’s different everywhere you go but always delicious.

There is nothing – nothing – like fresh seafood. The fish had a great flavour from the grill and was cooked perfectly, served with a lemon & garlic butter sauce on the side.  More of this, please:

Grilled snapper, rice & beans, coleslaw: standard Belize fare.

Seafood cravings temporarily fulfilled, we took a little tour around the hotel grounds. There’s something about dipping your feet in a pool that’s instantly relaxing. We returned to our room and sat on our balcony, breathing in the salty night air. Champagne was delivered to our room (part of the package we booked) but we were too wiped to enjoy it. No matter: we had plenty of other nights to enjoy it! Off to bed we went like responsible adults, knowing we had a long trip ahead of us into the mountains the next day.

Next up: road-tripping with the in-laws.

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